Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Time Code

By Marc Savlov

MAY 15, 2000: 

D: Mike Figgis; with Stellan Skarsgard, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Salma Hayek, Saffron Burrows, Kyle McLachlan, Richard Edson, Xander Berkeley, Holly Hunter, Glenne Headly. (R, 93 min.)

An audacious experiment that, like last year's indie upstart The Blair Witch Project, may very well threaten the established rules of Hollywood filmmaking, Mike Figgis' new film is both a headache and a marvel, often eliciting simultaneous groans of despair and sheer wonder at the director's nervy chutzpah. What's so grand about Time Code? To begin with, Figgis has forsaken film in favor of digital video. Second, the whole film unspools (if that's still the case) in real time ­ 93 minutes of it, to be precise, the exact amount of time allowed him by his digital cameras. Finally, and most unnervingly, the film/video is a composite of four different film/videos, each one shown within its own separate frame up there on the screen, and each one following the distinct storyline of one or two individual characters, all of whom, at one point or another, meet and interact. It's a bit like watching some ambitious, split-screen throwback to the more experimental days of the mid-Sixties to the mid-Seventies. You wait and wait for the trippy acid blossom to spread across the conjoined frames backed, perhaps, by a hoary Three Dog Night tune, but it never comes. Instead we get Everything But the Girl's Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn and a series of earthquakes jolting Los Angeles. It's apparently Figgis' take on some sort of neo-nouvelle vague, with "vague" being the operative word. The truly amazing thing is that the audience will sit still for it at all. You wonder, as the film begins, how on earth you're going to be able to juggle four separate simultaneous storylines in your head. Figgis, who also co-wrote the score, produced, and non-edited the film, solves the problem with the novel, obvious technique of quieting the soundtrack from the other three frames at any given moment. It works, and slowly but surely Time Code begins to make a fractured sort of sense. He should have kept the volume levels equal, though: As for its storylines, the film plays like a barrage of second-rate Cassavetes films, all bombarding you with the minutiae of everyday lives you probably weren't all that interested in to begin with. To make matters worse, it's a self-reflexive series of "Hollywood" stories, and deadly dull ones at that. There's Jeanne Tripplehorn as Lauren, sporting a white power suit and a limo and eavesdropping on her lover Rose (Hayek) as she rendezvous with her lover Alex (Skarsgard), a film producer, who's estranged from wife Emma (Burrows), who's seeing shrink Headly who's ... you get the point, or rather, you don't. Earthquakes interrupt the proceedings from time to time (Figgis' mastery of the shaky-cam is right up there with Sam Raimi), but that's about all the excitement to be derived from what I can only view as a gloriously enervating experiment in stretching the bounds of modern cinema. Still, I'm hopeful that Time Code will somehow tweak the industry from its current velvet rut, although admittedly that's about as likely to happen as Time Code knocking 'em dead in Peoria. For all the yawns the film engenders, you have to hand it to Figgis: The film smacks of the new and different, and as such it's something the moviegoing public not only deserves, but desperately needs. Whether they actually want it or not is another matter entirely.

2.5 Stars

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